Reflections of a town leader
Rod Slifer said he’s still the ski bum he was when he came here in 1962.
“See?” he said, gesturing to the ski clothes he was wearing on a recent Tuesday morning in his office above Bridge Street.
He was going skiing later, but for now he was talking about his last eight years as a town councilman. When he left the office of mayor last month, he had served in that position longer than anyone.
“The most important things we did were approve various projects that have and will change the face of Vail,” Slifer said, naming projects such as Solaris, the Front Door, the Arrabelle at Vail Square and the Ritz-Carlton Residences.
Those projects give Vail a facelift that was sorely needed, Slifer said.
“It was pretty tired,” he said.
Slifer came to Vail before the resort had opened when he was hired by founder Peter Seibert to be assistant ski school director.
One of Vail’s first real estate agents, he grew his company into the juggernaut Slifer Smith and Frampton.
Slifer got into politics by serving on the Eagle County Planning Board and the Vail Recreation District in the early days.
“I guess it was habitual,” he said. “It’s addictive.”
He was later appointed to the Vail Town Council, serving as mayor for seven years.
“The first eight years were a lot more fun,” Slifer said. “It felt more like a small town the first time.”
Slifer returned to Town Council in 1999, just as Vail was to embark on an unprecedented building spurt, advertised as the town’s “renaissance.”
In Vail’s redevelopment, buildings will naturally have to get bigger to justify their reconstruction, Slifer said.
But one episode within that renaissance ” the Crossroads controversy ” tested the limits of how big buildings should get. Slifer opposed the project, but it was ultimately approved by Vail voters.
“If we’d taken a couple of stories off, I think it still would have been financially feasible,” he said.
Developer Peter Knobel courted voters, made phone calls and hosted concerts. That marked a change in Vail politics, Slifer said.
“No developer has ever done that before,” he said.
Two issues, parking and affordable housing, have been around since the beginning of Vail and will be around for a long time, Slifer said.
“We really need to address both the housing and parking,” he said. “We shouldn’t have a zillion cars parked on the road every weekend.”
And one regret that Slifer has from all his years on council is that the town could not get a conference center built. Voters rejected a conference center in 2005.
“I’ve always felt that a conference center was one of the building blocks to make a complete community,” Slifer said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t get that passed.”
Slifer will continue to work at his real-estate company and on the numerous boards, mostly nonprofit, on which he serves. He promises he won’t run for office again.
The ski bum considers himself lucky to have shown up at the beginning of Vail.
“The luckiest thing I did was stay,” he said.